At some point in the coming weeks or months, a significant proportion of the UK workforce who are currently either working from home, or are unable to do their job whilst confined to home, will need to return to work.
Earlier this week, the TUC published a paper setting out the steps it wants the government and employers to undertake to ensure a safe transition from lock-down. The report: Preparing for the return to work outside the home calls upon the government to make it clear that no easing of restrictions will take place until adequate measures are in place to protect the health and safety of working people.
The report recommends:
Every employer must carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment
Any business employing more than five members of staff should be required to carry out a new, robust risk assessment before staff are allowed to return to work. This should identify the risks of exposure to Covid-19, provide an outline of the business's H&S plan and the measures it is taking to reduce the risks identified. This might include changing the layout of the working space to ensure that people can socially distance themselves, adjusting shift patterns, start times and alternating the working patterns of sections of the workplace to reduce the numbers of people working in the same place at the same time. If these steps can't be taken, employers must supply appropriate PPE.
Employers should also have to consider the specific health and safety requirements of anyone who is shielding or is more vulnerable if they catch the disease, including pregnant women and those from a black and minority ethnic background as this group as thought to be at greater risk than other ethnic groups.
It wants these plans to be approved by an accredited H&S representative or an inspector from the H&S executive before the business reopens.
No employee should be forced to work in an unsafe environment
The report suggest that existing H&S regulations are not 'fit for purpose' and must move from 'encouraging' employers to getting it right to taking action against those that don't. It wants the H&S Executive to act quickly and apply sanctions to employers that do not risk assess for Covid-19 or fail to provide safe working arrangements and, to prosecute and shut down the businesses of those employers who don't take safety seriously.
It also wants the government to run a public information campaign to ensure workers know their rights, and are made aware that they can leave their workplace if it is not safe.
Extending the furlough scheme
It's estimated that around 27% of the workforce have been furloughed. The TUC wants the government to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for as long as lock-down is in place and even if the lock-down is lifted for some sectors/businesses and not others to ensure that workers don't have to chose between working while they are ill or it's unsafe to do and feeding their families.
It also suggests that the scheme should become more flexible and allow those who return to work on reduced hours to claim for up to 80% of their lost wages and reduce the minimum period of furlough to one week to allow businesses more easily to rotate staff. It also wants the scheme to be extended to help parents who can't work because schools are closed, and those who are ordered to self-isolate by the contact-tracing programme.
It argues that the basic level of sick pay should be raised to the equivalent of a week’s pay at the real living wage and the lower limit threshold should be abolished.
It remains to see whether any of these suggestions will be adopted by the government, which is coming under increasing pressure to set out it's exit strategy so that businesses can plan ahead.
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